Tokyo Market Head Yasushi Shiina on Growing International Attendance, Bringing in Creators

Japan Content Showcase CEO Yasushi Shiina - P 2017
Courtesy of Japan Content Showcase

TIFFCOM, Japan's largest content market, saw another record year with the total number of exhibitors jumping to 405 from 27 countries.

TIFFCOM, Japan's largest film and TV content market, experienced another year of strong growth with a record number of exhibitors despite the disruption caused by both the coronation of Emperor Naruhito and the ongoing Rugby World Cup being held in the country. 

TIFFCOM and the music market TIMM are affiliated with the Tokyo International Film Festival, and usually these events would overlap. This year's market, however, closed four days before the fest began, a move prompted by Naruhito's coronation on Oct. 22, which was also designated a one-off national holiday in Japan. Also adding to the logistical headaches was the Rugby World Cup, with Tokyo swelling with thousands of extra foreign sports fans, fueling demand for hotel rooms.

In spite of the scheduling issues, the organizers of the market say that this year's event, held once again at the Sunshine City shopping, entertainment and business complex in Ikebukuro, was a success in pure numbers, with a record 405 exhibitors from 27 countries, compared to 382 exhibs last year. Organizers estimated that $63 million in deals were struck at the market last year, and that number is likely to go up this year. 

TIFFCOM, which has cultivated strong ties with Asian countries in recent years, saw a 30 percent increase in exhibitors from the region this year with 194, with China underpinning this growth and topping the ranks. 

China has become integral to TIFFCOM's international strategy, and the market held a "China Day" on opening day. Chinese buyers were once again the most numerous at the market, topping buyers from South Korea and Taiwan. The market also hosted a pavilion focused on Italy. 

After the market had closed, Yasushi Shiina, the CEO of TIFFCOM, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the success of this year's event, the reasons behind the focus on China and Italy and his goal to bring more creators to the market in the future.  

With the coronation of Emperor Naruhito, there was a gap between the market and the film festival. Were you concerned about the disruption? 

We were worried before [the market started], as in previous years we had events planned. But in terms of results, there's been no change from last year. The number of exhibitors has increased, so it's a successful year for us. 

It's been a big year with the World Cup and the coronation, of course, and it's all been good things and then next year we have the Olympics. People are watching Japan. 

Speaking of the Olympics, is that going to impact TIFFCOM in 2020? 

The Olympics finish in August, but there are many events [in Tokyo] in April, May, June, July and August that will get postponed. Now it looks like September, October and November will be [very crowded] and it will be hard to find venues for us. In Tokyo, particularly central Tokyo, the number of venues are very limited and we need a larger space. So next year might be a problem for us (laughs).

There has been a further increase in the number of international attendees to the market, and that has been the trend for the last few years. Is that still the goal? 

Yes, I would like to increase the number of international visitors. Our market is mainly Asian countries, particularly Korea, Hong Kong and China, and there are only a few from Europe and America. We are trying very hard to get more Americans and Europeans to come. We had a pavilion with Italy for the first time, and the reason we did that was because Japan and Italy are discussing a treaty for co-productions and Italian visual industries are very much interested in Japan. We are also approaching France right now. We are asking them [about a pavilion next year]. Next year is very important for France as there will be a big exhibition about French culture being held in Tokyo in 2021. 

China has become a key part of TIFFCOM's strategy. Is that relationship something that can be relied upon over the long term, given changing political issues? 

That's a good question. There's always politics. So far it's been good. I heard that before the Chinese would go to three markets: Cannes, Hong Kong and Los Angeles. But because of the trade war problems, they've decided to come to Tokyo. 

So TIFFCOM has benefited directly from the China-U.S. trade war? 

Yes, but next year, I don't know what will happen (laughs). Besides the political situation, I think [Japan and China] can work together. China is a huge market and Japan has good content. Also, we have the technical expertise we can share with China, so we are pretty much confident in the relationship. 

Looking ahead to next year, are there any plans on developing the market? 

There is one big thing [I want to do]. Our market is buying and selling — I don't think buying and selling markets are the future because you have the internet. The important thing for markets is to have a chance for face-to-face discussions, but also we need to make news. We need famous directors, some creators should come to the markets, too, to introduce their new products. The market has to be the place to announce new products, or works in progress, where people break news. So bringing in creators is my goal, but it won't be easy, with budgets and things like that. We are discussing it with the government at the moment. So far [the talks have been positive], so I hope next year or the year after that we'll see something happen.